Eric von Hippel

Professor and Head of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group, MIT

Eric von Hippel is a Professor and Head of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He specializes in research related to the nature and economics of distributed and open innovation. He also develops and teaches about practical methods that firms can use to improve their product and service development processes. Back in 2005, he published a book called Democratizing Innovation which looks closely at this emergent system of user-centered innovation.

Here's a definition of a lead-user:

Lead users are defined as users of a given product or service type that combine two characteristics: (1) lead users expect attractive innovation-related benefits from a solution to their needs and so are motivated to innovate, and (2) lead users experience needs that will become general in a marketplace, but experience them months or years earlier than the majority of the target market. Note that lead users are not the same as early adopters of an innovation. They are typically ahead of the entire adoption curve in that they experience needs before any responsive commercial products exist – and therefore often develop their own solutions.

Of course much of Eric’s research is based on lead-user product innovation. The question I'm delving into is this: What role can or should the lead user play when dealing with business model innovation? Here at BIF, we’re focused on systems change. Is there a way to give the lead user the tools necessary to innovate on a systems-wide level? Do the tools even exist today to do that?